Last week The Guardian published an article brazenly claiming that natural gas is “just like coal” and that the emissions advantages vis-à-vis coal are “lost” due to methane leakage. Beyond being simply inaccurate, this claim flies in the face of extensive, unbiased research that confirms natural gas’ function as an important, cleaner-burning part of the energy mix.
For starters, there is the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) finding, that:
“Taking into account our estimate of methane emissions from both gas and coal, on average, gas generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal when generating heat or electricity, regardless of timeframe considered.”
“The emissions from natural gas combustion are well-known and show clear advantages for gas relative to other fossil fuels. CO2 emissions (per unit of energy produced) from gas are around 40% lower than coal and around 20% lower than oil.”
Environmental studies aside, the United States’ recent success in decreasing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the midst of its domestic natural gas boom is further evidence of natural gas’ important role as a transition fuel. According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization dedicated to “providing the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change”:
“A key development … is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and hear production from coal to gas (IEA, 20125); this is an important reason for a reduction in GHG emissions.”
This practical experience runs directly counter to the article’s authors’ claim that “the continuing growth of the gas sector contributes significantly to Australia’s rising domestic emissions,” a claim that they base off of a deeply flawed (and thoroughly debunked) study by Climate Analytics.
In lieu of natural gas, the authors advocate for Australia’s increased use of wind and solar technologies secured by storage technologies comprised of mined minerals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel. The issue with this proposed model is that sources like solar and wind are still heavily dependent on natural gas, as the IEA puts it:
“Given the limits to how quickly renewable energy options can be scaled up… the flexibility that natural gas brings to an energy system can also make it a good fit for the use of variable renewables such as wind and solar PV.”
Further, this “plan” requires extensive mining to be feasible, and these mining operations come with their own associated GHG emissions, which were protested in a separate article published by the Guardian.
So while these authors’ may view natural gas’ flexibility and emissions advantages as “hype,” most industry experts see it for what it really is, the most secure and environmentally sound option available to meet large-scale demand at a reasonable price.